CHARLESTON, S.C. — Gay rights advocates hope the buzz surrounding a “Big, Gay ‘I Do'” wedding celebration in Charleston will show how much money South Carolina’s businesses are losing to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
With federal courts overturning similar bans in other states, advocates in a city that’s already one of the nation’s top wedding locales decided to throw a party to protest South Carolina’s ban. Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson and Gov. Nikki Haley, meanwhile, have pledged to keep defending that ban.
Dozens of Charleston businesses volunteered to “roll out the rainbow carpet,” to a gay couple that submits a winning auction bid for a wedding weekend in January.
The winning couple and 50 of their guests will be treated to a wedding package valued at more than $45,000. The only caveat: The couple must come with a marriage license in hand.
Businesses have donated the entire wedding package, including invitations, catering, flowers, photography, a horse-drawn carriage ride, and a hotel suite.
It’s all being organized by the advocacy group Alliance for Full Acceptance.
“We need folks to realize how much money would be coming to Charleston if we had marriage equality,” said Warren Redman-Gress, director of the alliance, which has promoted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Charleston for 16 years. “All of the vendors who signed on are very aware they’re missing out on this.”
The auction comes eight years after 78 percent of voters statewide – 65 percent in Charleston County – approved adding the ban to the state constitution. While Charleston has a reputation of being more progressive and accepting than other parts of the deeply red state, participants say, getting businesses to participate in the wedding fundraiser likely would not have been possible a decade ago.
“Ten years ago, it would have been a hard sell,” said Mitchell Crosby, president of event-planning company JMC Charleston. “Five years ago, it was still edgy. Today, it’s spot on. … People have changed their tune.”
Particularly in Charleston, wedding-industry businesses realize that if the ban eventually topples their client base grows, said Crosby, who’s donating the rehearsal dinner venue.
“We’re already at the top of our game as far as destination weddings. Financially, it’s going to benefit everyone,” said Randall Goldman, whose company owns historic wedding venues. “It’s going to be huge financially to the state.”
The public’s changing opinions are evidenced by the lack of opposition to the publicized event, he said.
“I’ve not received any resistance or contrary opinions or people expressing concern about our participation,” said Goldman, who’s donating the wedding reception location and the cake. “That in itself is a huge thing.”
Mariana Ramsay Hay of Croghan’s Jewel Box said she didn’t hesitate to provide the wedding rings.
“I just think it’s doing the right thing,” said the third-generation owner of the King Street store. “We saw love, and I don’t think it’s our judgment to tell people who can love each other.”
While Hay doesn’t consider herself politically active, her support of the gay community has given “cover” to other businesses, Redman-Gress said.
“Stores are not afraid of the backlash they would’ve been afraid of as recently as eight years ago,” he said. “In eight years, businesses have gone from ‘We don’t want gay customers,’ to ‘We are looking to court the gay community.'”
The online auction ends Aug. 29. The winning bid supports the Alliance for Full Acceptance.
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